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By Peter Kenworthy, Communications- and Project Assistant
In a speech given at the recent International Labour Organization (ILO) Conference in Geneva, British TUC representative and member of the governing body of the ILO, Sam Gurney, criticised the Swazi government for its repression of union members and “broken commitments” in regard to human rights. “Swaziland joined the ILO in 1975 and in the following years ratified a large number of conventions, 16 in a single day in 1978. Sadly as we have heard it has honoured many of them only in the breach and in particular has failed on conventions 89 and 98”. He also specifically referred to the cases of Sipho Jele and Alex Langwenya. “Very few people believe he really killed himself”, said Gurney of Sipho Jele's alleged suicide while in police custody. Referring to Langwenya, he spoke of the suspicious and mystifying behaviour of the Swazi police, alluding to the fact that some believe that Swazi police were behind the bombing of his house, in stating that “the fact that the police arrived minutes after the attack, before they had even been called, and proceeded to arrest Mr Langwenya himself is not very reassuring”.
As all political parties are banned in Swaziland, and members of these parties are harassed and even killed, Gurney highlighted the importance of Swazi unions that “continued to play an essential role in representing the interests of ordinary Swazi citizens”, even though they “have paid a high price” for doing so. Several Swazi trade unions were present at the ILO Conference, and the Swazi delegation including Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Labour, and Mauduzi Gina, Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, had pushed for sanctions against Swaziland as well as for a delegation from the ILO to visit Swaziland to report on the state of human rights abuses in the country.
Gurney seemingly agreed that change and action was required, concluding that “we must show them that the ILO can take action that will lead to real change.”
SFTU President's house raided
The response of the Swazi regime to the ILO conference was, amongst other things, to raid the house of Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) President, Barnes Dlamini, allegedly to search for bombs. At least 12 plain clothed officers conducted the search that lasted a total of three hours. After having confiscated several of Barnes Dlamini's books, including a book by Steve Biko, he was taken to the police station and interrogated. SFTU see this as being directly related to the ILO conference, its Deputy Secretary stating that "this is not so much about looking for bombs and other material but rather about intimidation, including fear and harassing us with the hope that we will be boggled into silence".